A rough rode takes a hefty toll on a car. As we head into fall, many roadways are being hit with heavy rains, which leads to roads full of potholes. If you travel through potholed and pockmarked roads on a regular basis, your vehicle’s support system could be taking a beating. A vehicle’s suspension holds up the weight of a car or truck and absorbs bumps and jolts in the road without unduly jarring its occupants in the process. Aside from springs, the key components in a car or truck’s suspension system are struts and shock absorbers.
Both curtail a car’s tendency to bounce while accelerating, stopping, turning the corners or hitting bumps, contributing to a comfortable ride and well-controlled handling qualities.
While shocks and struts are engineered to last anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000 miles, they can wear out sooner depending on the vehicle and where or how it’s driven.
If your car is suffering from any of the following symptoms, it may be signaling that it’s time to have the struts and/or shock absorbers replaced:
- Reduced steering response
- Exaggerated “nose dive” or instability while braking
- Rocking back and forth
- Excessive bouncing or “bottoming out” over bumps
- Leaning or sliding sideways on a winding road or while changing lanes
Even if your car isn’t suffering any of the above symptoms, it’s a good idea to have a mechanic give your car’s suspension system an annual checkup as cheap insurance to nip such problems in the proverbial bud, before they have a chance to inflict further damage.
Worn struts and/or shocks increase the wear and tear on your car’s tires and other suspension parts, and can adversely affect its handling, perhaps dangerously under extreme circumstances.
Shocks and struts are not interchangeable components. While shock absorbers are standalone parts that help dampen the effects of riding over pavement irregularities, struts are actually structural parts of a vehicle and integrate various suspension parts into a single assembly. These include the coil spring, shock absorber and steering knuckle, among other parts.
Most front-wheel-drive cars feature struts at the front wheels for efficiency in packaging, with shock absorbers at the rear. Rear-drive vehicles, on the other hand, usually feature different suspension designs with shocks at all four wheels.
In addition to returning a car or truck’s ride and handling qualities to their original luster, replacing struts and/or struts can also benefit a car’s braking, shortening its stopping distance by as much as 10 feet according to some sources.
For peace of mind, get a regular inspection. And at 50,000 miles, it’s time to talk to your technician about replacing them.
As a bonus, you can often take your car’s handling abilities to a higher level or make it more robust over rough or unpaved roads by eschewing original-spec components when it’s time to have them replaced and instead choosing sport-tuned or heavy-duty shock absorbers. But beware that while switching to a “stiffer” shock absorber may afford better performance under such circumstances, this usually comes with a rougher ride as a tradeoff.
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